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Cooling Unit On International Space Station Shuts Down

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Two hundred miles up, there’s a problem — a potentially serious one for the International Space Station.

Alex DeMetrick reports a critical cooling unit has failed and the scramble is on to fix it.

The International Space Station may travel in the frigid temperatures of Earth’s orbit. But inside, all the electronics and other equipment continuously produce heat. And that gear needs to be cooled down.

But the cooling unit is not working.

“It’s a serious issue. The space station has two coolant loops to get rid of all the heat generated by the electronics on the station. If they don’t dissipate that heat, then critical systems can literally shut down,” said Bill Harwood, CBS News space consultant.

NASA is trying a software fix from the ground. If that doesn’t work, a repair gets serious because the cooling unit is mounted outside the station.

“They have three spares on board,” said Harwood. “If they had to do a spacewalk, they could swap the units out. But that’s a big deal.”

Because even though there have been a number of spacewalks outside the station, there have been none since July, when an astronaut nearly drowned inside his own helmet.

“I feel a lot of water on the back of my head,” the astronaut said.

And outside work typically takes months of training to pull off. As for the six astronauts aboard the station — two of them Americans — NASA says at no time was the crew or the station itself in any danger and that some non-critical systems have been powered down.

“They’ve had to shut down a lot of their science gear, some of their non-essential equipment. And again, that’s not what you want to do if you’re up there to do science. You want to have all this stuff running and they want to get this fixed,” Harwood said.

A NASA spokesperson says the situation aboard the space station is a serious problem, but it’s not an emergency.

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